Boris Johnson is getting all the plaudits and Jeremy Corbyn all the blame.
That’s what you’d expect after an election in which the Conservatives gained a more crushing victory than anyone predicted (though this column declared at the campaign’s outset that the Tories would win ‘and by more than a short head’) while Labour took their lowest haul of seats since 1935.
But to put everything down to the huge gulf in talent and opinions between a brilliantly opportunist Right-of-Centre master wordsmith and a hard-Left superannuated student demonstrator with the intellectual flexibility of a lamp- post is to leave out many other notable actors in the drama.
Boris Johnson (left) delivers his statement outside Downing Street following his election win on Friday. Jeremy Corbyn (right) pictured riding his bike near his Islington home yesterday
As the credits roll, we should not let their performances — for good or ill — pass without appraisal.
Lurking in the wings, readying his long-awaited move on the Labour leadership, is Sir Keir Starmer. He has, amazingly, been named by the bookies as the punters’ favourite to take over.
What a reward for failure that would be. Starmer, as Shadow Brexit Secretary, was the man primarily responsible for pressuring a reluctant Jeremy Corbyn to sign Labour up to a policy of having a second referendum.
That went down very well with Starmer’s party members in Holborn and St Pancras, North London, but was an absolute disaster in Labour’s traditional heartlands in the Midlands and North-East.
One of those Labour candidates who lost her seat as a result was the former Don Valley MP for 22 years, Caroline Flint. She was one of the very few Labour MPs who had tried her utmost to honour the referendum result, so this was cruel.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry
Yesterday, she was magnificent in her justifiable fury at the idea that Sir Keir —or any other London Labour bigwig who had catastrophically conspired to overturn the 2016 referendum result — could lead the party: ‘He and [Shadow Foreign Secretary] Emily Thornberry, among others, contributed to us sacrificing 59 seats — and they are saying: “Don’t worry, we won Putney.” None of these arch- Remainers is credible to be leader.’
Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, the party’s biggest funder, has also blamed Labour’s defeat for ‘its slow-motion collapse into the arms of the People’s Vote movement and others who have never accepted the democratic decision of June 2016’.
I’m with you there, Len.
He added that another contributing factor was ‘failure to apologise for anti-Semitism in the party when pressed to do so, capping years of mishandling of this question’.
Lurking in the wings, readying his long-awaited move on the Labour leadership, is Sir Keir Starmer (left). Len McCluskey (right), the leader of the Unite union, the Labour party’s biggest funder
This, however, is astonishing. Not because he is wrong, but because in February McCluskey attacked those who were charging Labour with insufficient vigilance against anti-Semitism in its membership, describing it as ‘grossly unfair . . . the whole thing is contrived’.
It’s too late for you to apologise now, Len, let alone to criticise others for not doing so.
If there is a true hero in this matter, it is the former MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin. I have known Ian for years and he had always struck me as tribal Labour. But, partly because his father was a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust (in which many of his relatives were exterminated), Ian set up a group called Mainstream, with 14 other ex-Labour MPs, which advised traditional supporters to join them in rejecting the party, now tainted by anti-Semitism, at this election.
Former MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin. He set up a group called Mainstream, with 14 other ex-Labour MPs, which advised traditional supporters to join them in rejecting the party, now tainted by anti-Semitism, at the 2019 election
I am sure their campaign in Labour seats will have made an impact.
But Ian’s bravest moment came in the House of Commons, shortly before the General Election, during a debate called by Labour on ‘The Rule of Law’.
Standing in the midst of the Labour benches, he denounced the effrontery of this, given Corbyn’s ‘friendships’ with Islamist terror organisations, and John McDonnell’s praise for the role of Irish Republican terrorists.
He concluded with a devastating peroration: ‘These people, and the people around them, are a million miles away from the traditional mainstream, decent politics of the Labour Party. They have poisoned what was once a great party with extremism, and they cannot be trusted with the institutions that underpin our democracy.
‘They are completely unfit to lead the Labour Party, let alone our country.’ The country agreed.
There was one Labour MP who heckled Ian throughout that speech, the then Shadow Foreign Minister Liz McInnes. After one of her sedentary interruptions (‘You’re not welcome here’), he responded: ‘I am here because voters in Dudley North sent me here to represent them . . . and I will tell the Hon Lady this: I am going to make absolutely certain that she is going to have to answer for these points at the next election.’
I am delighted to confirm that McInnes has just been booted out of her seat of Heywood and Middleton, in Greater Manchester, where there was a swing of 8.3 per cent from Labour to the Tories. So she was not welcome there.
But the individual loss which will have most shocked the Corbynites was that of Laura Pidcock in North West Durham. Despite her having been in the Commons only since 2017, those around the leader were pushing the 32-year-old’s claims as his successor.
Liz McInnes (left) was booted out of her seat of Heywood and Middleton, in Greater Manchester. The individual loss which will have most shocked the Corbynites was that of Laura Pidcock (right) in North West Durham
Last week, the Conservatives captured that former coal-mining constituency for the first time since it came into being in the 19th century. Pidcock, you might recall, is the piece of work who said she could never be friends with a woman MP from the opposite side of the House because ‘the idea that they are not the enemy is delusional’.
It was she who seemed delusional when during the campaign she effectively compared Corbyn with Jesus, saying of her leader’s critics: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Political correspondent Lewis Goodall of Sky News
Since Pidcock’s father is a former Catholic priest, she could hardly have been unaware that these words of Jesus on the cross are indelibly linked in history to attacks on Jews as Christ-killers: so not a bright move, given the charges of anti-Semitism within the party.
But the most undisguisedly pro-Labour of all the supposedly impartial television political correspondents, Lewis Goodall of Sky News, tweeted his acclaim for this apocalyptic address to the faithful: ‘Pidcock is a v good speaker . . . almost pastor-like. Big sweeping themes, hopeful, the room loved it. So easy to see how she could sweep the party in a leadership election.’
This over-excited twerp (on a Guardian writers’ profile page, Goodall was previously described as a ‘Labour activist’) has been snapped up by the BBC to become the ‘Policy Editor’ of Newsnight.
No wonder senior Tory ministers are increasingly unwilling to appear on the current affairs programmes of our licence-fee funded broadcaster.
In this review of the goodies and baddies of the campaign, one person is both. I refer to Jo Swinson.
Jo Swinson reacts to losing her seat in East Dunbartonshire after vowing to cancel Brexit without even a second vote
It was her decision to support Boris Johnson’s call for a General Election which was essential to secure the parliamentary votes for that motion to pass with the necessary majority.
Had she not led the Liberal Democrat Party in doing so, we would still be stuck in limbo, without a Tory landslide to ‘get Brexit done’.
We should be most grateful to her.
Sir Norman Lamb quit politics rather than stand on what he called a ‘disrespectful’ campaign message
But Swinson’s idea that she would become Prime Minister, on a platform of revoking Brexit without even a second vote, displayed an arrogance that the electorate — including her own constituents — found entirely resistible.
An infinitely more distinguished Liberal Democrat, Sir Norman Lamb, quit politics rather than stand on what he called a ‘disrespectful’ campaign message. His replacement as the Lib Dem candidate in Norfolk North suffered a debacle in what had been a safe seat for the party: there was a colossal swing of over 18 per cent to the Conservatives.
Sir Norman yesterday described this outcome as ‘blindingly obvious’.
It wasn’t to Swinson, who still won’t accept she has made any mistakes. Just like Jeremy Corbyn, who also can find no fault in his own election performance—nor indeed, in anything he has ever said or done in his long and undistinguished political career.
The only party leader who responded to the result with humility was Boris Johnson. He said of the many who had voted Tory for the first time: ‘These people want change and we must not let them down. We must change, too.’
No wonder he won.